Visual Arts

See Brian Boner's New Mural at monOrchid in Downtown Phoenix

Hundreds of birds appear to fly northward in a mural recently painted on a west-facing exterior wall for the monOrchid building. The renovated Roosevelt Row warehouse is home to gallery, retail, and work spaces. And now it’s got a new mural painted by Brian Boner, who lives just a few blocks from the space.

The new mural, commissioned by monOrchid owner Wayne Rainey, depicts a young boy standing atop a tower of words attributed to the late Mother Teresa, a Catholic missionary whose life work comprised helping impoverished people in India. The figure is based on a younger version of Boner's son, Jasper, who's now 4 years old.

He’s holding a bucket, as if watering a garden. Titled The Garden, the mural was a joint project by Rainey, Boner, and Jon Linton. Linton heads the I Have a Name Project, which works to increase awareness and action on behalf of people who are homeless.

When Rainey put out a call for art inviting proposals for a new monOrchid mural, both Linton and Boner submitted their ideas. Rainey liked them both, Linton says. So he asked them to collaborate, and they agreed. The trio worked together on the mural’s design, Linton says, and all three had a hand in creating it.

Before Boner started painting, Rainey and Linton prepped the wall – filling holes, repairing cracks, and painting over the previous mural. When a man looking for odd jobs asked if he could help, they welcomed the extra pair of hands. Later they learned that the man, who doesn’t want his name shared, was living in transitional housing for the homeless.

Prep work started in mid-November of 2015, and Linton says it took several weeks and more paint than expected because the walls were so porous. Boner says he worked about 16 hours for six weekends, clocking in nearly 100 hours. He finished painting in late January 2016.

Still, Linton says he won’t consider the mural finished until a metal plaque gets installed at eye level on the street side of the mural later this month. It reads as follows: “In honor and remembrance of those who have perished homeless on our streets.”

The mural is part of a larger effort by Linton to raise awareness about homelessness. For years, he’s photographed people who are homeless, and exhibited those works in places that include monOrchid’s Bokeh Gallery. And his I Have a Name Project has an active social media presence.

“There’s a need out there,” Linton says. “The mural is an attempt to encourage people to pause.” Linton hopes those who linger over the mural’s words and images will be inspired to think differently about homelessness.

The birds are an important part of conveying that message. “To me the birds represent freedom from oppression and poverty,” Linton says. “They’re emblematic of the people that have perished and are in flight to a different place.” It’s personal, he says, because one of his own friends died homeless.

For Boner, the birds are a metaphor for community. He started by painting a single small bird, and added over a thousand more spanning the entire west-facing wall – working to convey the feeling of watching birds flying together across the sky. “It’s beautiful to see that many minds working together.”

It’s not the first time Boner has painted birds. “I’ve been putting these birds in my paintings for a while,”he says. “Over the years, they’ve taken on a lot of connotations.” At first, they were an homage to his late father, who loved watching birds fly.

More of Boner’s birds appear to fly across the south-facing exterior wall at monOrchid, where the artist says he painted them a decade or so ago. It was the first mural he’d ever done, and he recalls getting paid about $400 or $500 at the time. This time, he made just over $4,000 – thanks to a GoFundMe Campaign launched by the I Have a Name Project.

The mural, which borders a pop-up park, is becoming a popular backdrop for people taking photographs. Until last February, people often posed in front of Lauren Lee’s Three Birds mural painted on a gallery just east of monOrchid, but that building was demolished to make way for new development.

Soon people will have a better view of Boner’s mural, because a sculpture called Peritoneum that partially obstructs it is being relocated, according to Dorina Bustamante, director of community engagement for Downtown Phoenix Partnership. It’s being moved to the southwest corner of the park, she says, and painted white.

Bustamante hopes the sculpture will get moved by the end of February, and says they’ll spread the word once details are firmed up so those who want to help take it apart and reassemble it can join in the process. But there’s another event coming soon to the park as well.

The I Have a Name Project is holding a candlelight vigil at the park on Friday, February 19, at 6 p.m. For details, visit the I Have a Name Project Facebook page.

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble